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Mitt Romney asserts tax rate over 13%

Cites a decade of returns, but offers no proof

GREER, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Thursday that he has paid a tax rate of at least 13 percent in each of the past 10 years, offering his fullest explanation to date of his tax status.

‘‘I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I paid taxes every single year,’’ he told reporters.

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Democrats have hit Romney repeatedly on the issue, using it as an illustration for their argument that the Republican presidential candidate’s tax policies would favor the wealthy, like himself, rather than the middle class.

They have said he pays a lower effective tax rate than many middle-class families. And they have said his refusal to publicly release more than two years of records shows he has something to hide about his personal finances.

In response to pressure from his rivals during the Republican primaries, Romney released his 2010 tax return in January, showing he paid 13.9 percent on his $21.7 million in 2010 income. That is the figure he was referring to Thursday, his campaign said, when he mentioned a 13.6 percent tax rate.

Romney’s campaign has specifically been pushing back against accusations by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, who has said that he was told by an investor at Bain Capital, which Romney once led, that the Republican candidate had paid nothing in taxes for several years, because of his ability to take advantage of tax breaks.

But Romney said Reid’s charge is ‘‘totally false.’’ He complained the tax issue has been a distraction during a time when the country faces tough challenges.

‘‘I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him. I don’t believe it for a minute, by the way,’’ he said.

A spokesman for Reid said Romney could prove his statements true by making his records public.

‘‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’’ said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson.

‘‘Until Mitt Romney releases his tax returns, Americans will continue to wonder what he’s hiding.’’

Romney’s answer on taxes — which came at the end of a news conference devoted to other issues — appeared to be a followup to a response he gave ABC’s David Muir in an interview last month.

Muir asked whether Romney had ever paid less than the 13.9 percent he paid last year.

‘‘I haven’t calculated that,’’ Romney said then. ‘‘I’m happy to go back and look, but my view is I’ve paid all the taxes required by law.’’

Democrats have said Romney’s tax records are an illustration of the ways the wealthy can use loopholes and tax shelters to lower their payments to the government.

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